a short story
Entering, O held no real expectations. Pure exhibition. The room was already populated, with what appeared to be all of them. Better grab a drink. Each is already engaged. Some wholeheartedly, others listlessly, one of them… he doesn’t recognize at all. But here they were and it was time again for him to enter the fold. This party was an obligation and he would bear witness. It fell to him to do this. It was his role somehow.
Maximum effort now. Seemingly unnoticed as of yet, O walks amidst the group with heightening intrigue. He overhears snippets of conversation, the usual rabble. As he does, unfocusing on any particular interaction, he takes measures of each of them. Impressions, memories, opinions of each come flowing back to mind, repopulating the spaces with personages. Well let’s begin, get this over with, bear this witnessenthry.
O approaches Lilith and Persia, the Pretty Boy, the two closest and starkest of the bunch. Always terrible with names, he uses nicknames. But only mentally. Easier that way, for all of us. Lil wears a tight dress, as usual. Her hair is down and she almost never stops smiling; seducing. She wields her drink as an assassin with a favorite dagger. He meets her eyes for only a moment and feels the familiar weakness through his body. Careful. Many important men and women had lost themselves within those eyes. She never left them the same. He quickly glanced over to Pretty Boy as a manner of avoidance. He too smiles, while talking, louder and boisterous, eyes wide, hand motions, enunciates at the right moments of yet another told or untold story, puts his back into it and finishes with his grander smile yet.
Something is missing in all of this, O knows, but he can never quite place it. PB has a way of looking at you and only seeing himself. Tonight, He manages to dress for a near perfect amalgamation of comfort and style. At least this time he isn’t wearing shades, and with the hair and the collar. O spends some time looking back and forth between the two’s engagement, Lilith’s feigned reactions and occasional verbal ripostes, Pretty Boy’s obnoxiously exaggerated stories of his experiences here and there. How many of these stories has she already heard. And how many stories to trump them has she never told? Doesn’t she get bored with him? Going through the motions perhaps. Not unlike myself.. Alas, it is the same old song and dance. But he is here.
So he listens.
“…so this finally guy admits: I don’t regret it.” Lilith says coolly, ending some snippet
“Of course. And neither do I!” Pretty Boy proclaims with wide mouth and loud laughter following.
Lilith fake laughs as well for a moment. Nodding slowly, sipping her drink, she then says with blunt force:
“You may see me only as a sexual object, a conquest, as you see many things, perhaps everything. But how much do you really know about me?” Lil squints her eyes as she says it, scrutinizing and swaying the drink in her hand.
“Oh I know you. Everyone knows you. But I know you best of all. After all, we’re two sides of the same coin. Prodigies turned adventurers turned conquistadors. We know how to play the game, the platform to best employ our special talents. We know how to win. Again and again,” Pretty Boy says this with an unwavering confidence, casually glancing to the rest of the partygoers as he does. His voice is unnecessarily loud and growing.
“Two sides of the same coin, I actually like that description, of us. Similar but different. Diametrically opposed in many ways even,” Lilith responds pensively.
“Diametrically opposed? Do explain. This should be good,” Pretty Boy smiles and takes a swig.
“You are a liar. To others. And you tell so many of them, that you sincerely believe them all. Don’t know how many years it took you to perfect this, but you have. Arrogant, narcissistic, a complete egoist at the ramparts of an unstoppable train crashing its way through all our lives whether we want it or not. By your own estimation, you have never been wrong. Nothing matters until you’ve touched it, then it’s the only thing that matters and damn the person who doesn’t hear about it. You want to fuck the world and eat it too. You, are a real piece of work. I despise and respect you for these things, however most people can’t get enough of you. Your charisma belies the sociopathic monstrosity underneath it all. Others want you around, they need you. You perform some of the things they don’t have the courage or gall to complete. They find in you something they surreptitiously wish for their own selves. They follow in your footsteps. All because they believe in power. You radiate this to an unbelievable effect. You are powerful — I’ll give you this. And these others, often mistakenly, they believe power begets power,” Lilith articulates every word with just enough venomous tenor in her voice to convey exactly the amount of spite she wishes to impart onto the listener.
O weighs Lil’s words. They are true, but he isn’t sure she’s speaking her own truth. There is more than an admiration underneath it. He could be wrong though.
“Ha-ha! What a mouth you’ve got! Your judgments mean nothing to me, truly,” Persia guffaws rather over-aggressively.
“They never have. I don’t know if I have ever told you that, but it is true. And besides, you are exaggerating. I don’t want to eat the world. And what about yourself, we all know what you get into, what sins are on your own mantle! And we are so similar, you said so yourself. You criticize your own lechery in the same moment,” Pretty Boy retorts. He leans forward, manic in defense and speaks louder with each successive sentiment. O doesn’t understand where he can go from here, concerning volume.
Lilith continues her thread,
“It’s true, I too am a piece of work. I lie. But there is an important difference. I am dishonest only in my own mind, to myself. I am fully aware of the untruth. It’s necessary, it helps me. I impose my self-confidence onto my environments. I cannot be too egotistical, because I have to pay attention, always, I have to draw them in. I deal in persons, their hearts and minds, and I know the value in a person. I respect them, even if they often don’t respect themselves, or me. Again, I have to. These things have to matter to me. I let others tell their stories. I empower those personal narratives, they open up, I become their world. More than a companion, I am. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary. All this being said, it is true: I seek power, I use people. I too want to fuck the world. But after, I will stay up and talk,” Pretty Boy begins his raucous laughter during Lilith’s speech.
“Incredible! Talk about lying to yourself! Get that holier than thou attitude the hell outta my face! You are just a harlot ha-ha-ha!” Pretty Boy exclaims obnoxiously. Kicking his head back in the exuberance of fake laughter. He is soon doused in the remainder of Lilith’s drink.
Perhaps that is why she didn’t drink any of it.
Pretty Boy reaches out in uncharacteristic ferocity, grabbing Lilith’s arm. Leaning in until he’s face to face, he speaks with nearly animalistic menace. Lil appears shocked. That is a rarity.
“Your words are plague. Your own hubris jeopardizes everything here, the stability of the pillars might be wrecked by your verbal callousness. You are saved only by my own heeded receptions,” Angry Boy Persia spits.
“Oh, did I hurt you?” Lilith responds in feigned surprise.
“You cannot hurt me! But you can destroy everything else. That’s always been you hasn’t it. You will tear it all down as long as you are left standing. You don’t want to, but you have to. You’re a slave to your own desires more than I ever could be,” Pretty Boy Persia continues to seethe.
“I accept my faults. Your problem is that you cannot see your own,” Lilith doesn’t back down.
Persia gives it a pause. He closes his eyes and turns away for a moment. Is he… in a sincere contemplation? O surmises the momentous occasion. He continues,
“To see them would be suicide. The sun doesn’t know of its own supernova. At best, there’s no value in it and at the worst, it burns out then and there in anxiety. I have so much more to build, so much more to conquer. I can’t be stopped by meaningless mortality. I won’t be,” Pretty Boy leans back, shaking his head harder. The intensity in his eyes tracks a wayward continuum. It was hard to tell what was going on inside the man, outside of simply unchartered chaos. It only ever seemed to reveal itself around her, O intuited.
“You are not god,” Lilith says with finality.
“No. But I have to try,” Pretty responds, releasing his hold. He turns around to leave, picking up a new drink as he does.
“That’s a first,” Lilith says to herself with supreme disquiet.
O walks back to the bar to fetch another drink, for himself and Lilith. When he turns, there are two others. He can feel the animosity. Gio and Shane. Ah yes, these two always make for an interesting pair.
Shane wears an odd outfit, as per usual. A grey tunic covers his gut, worn pants, no shoes. He drinks a large beer. His facial activity remains inert. Regardless if he is listening, talking, eating, or anything else you might find him doing, the face is familiar and mostly unchanging. O could never get a full read on him. But he honestly didn’t doubt his own observational abilities. It had more to do with the fact that there was nothing to read. At least he thought so.
“So here we are again. Here you are, same old story. You are still, just you,” Gio says to Shane. Shane stares through him, drinks his beer.
“Still not a talker eh. What do you do then? Is it, professional consumer? Big and large model? Human wastebin?” Gio barks with laughter at his own commentary. Gio wears another expensive suit. He is impeccably groomed. His eyes bleed with some mix of enchantment and contained carnage. O understood him to be rising in the prominence of many circles nowadays.
Gio nodded at Shane for a few beats. His exorbitant smile turned deathly as he pulled a switchblade out of his own suit and descended upon Shane like a vengeful phantom. Putting the knife precariously to his throat, he whispers venomously,
“Say something fatty or I’ll kill you right now,” Gio grips the back of his neck with his offhand. “I’ll empty you of all your wine-blood, for everyone to witness. No one-”
“There’s nothing to say,” Shane speaks.
“Ah of course,” Gio says calmly, retracting his blade hand. “There NEVER is. That’s your whole gimmick.”
Things are instantly casual again. Gio returns to a state merely with the threat of murderous malice.
Shane finishes his beer. “Your expectations make you miserable.” He sets it aside.
In the intervening silence, O holds his breath.
“Don’t give me this bullshit,” Gio screeches.
“You reside within a prison of your own creation,” Shane delivers with nothing behind it. It is only the words. His arms are crossed, eyes half closed.
“At least I create! I do!” Gio howls.
O muses, he took the bait… Shane never fished before. Huh.
“And yet, you are not better off. No progress,” Shane responded immediately.
“I experience 10,000x what you do, every moment of every day. Wealth, power, memory, companions. I can deal with anyone. People know me from all over. My possession of a thing brings it honor! The glory upon which I ride… “ Gio wails on and on.
“Where is fulfilment in that inventory.” Shane’s eyes are practically closed. He has another beer now, it’s almost gone already.
Watching him work was refreshing, O realizes. So unuse to this style.
“I don’t need to defend myself to a shade. You don’t even deserve life. You don’t deserve to be here — “ Gio breaks off, throwing his untouched drink against the wall nearest to his right. Some of the others look over when it shatters aloud.
Shane raises his hand slowly, “Let me answer for you: you wield pain like a sword. An illusory dealer in your own unrequited desires for some kind of yearned enlightenment. You think, in your work and your struggle to attain newer heights, there is a light at the end awaiting your final resting. You think the void within your soul can be filled with materials from worlds away. You honestly believe in the power of power, in its ability to inspire individual greatness. But you’ll never feel any better or worse than you feel right now. You are a prisoner, as I said. Nothing more. In all this, you are mired in things just before your eyes, walled in by your own hoard,” Shane motions to… ‘all of it’ in conclusion.
Gio looks on in disbelief. He scrutinizes Shane’s unchanging face.
Shane continues, “That being said. I’ve always respected you. Your path is one of fire, movement, passion. Even if it is for the wrong reasons, at least there is a striving in it. I understand the value of it. My only wish has ever been for the feeling of reciprocation. I know it cannot be. Your distaste for me is only your nature, so I have never objected. I never take it personally, knowing this. I take my leave of you.”
Shane walked into the rabble of the party before Gio can formulate a response. Shaken, O watches him for a time.
O fades away into the back of the party. He hears him before he sees him. The munch and slurp of a familiar friend. O looks to the corner of the room, at the end of the table, by the door. It is Gabriel, and he is alone with his edible vices. The man eats with vigorous motion. Chewing and washing the stuff down with the available fluids. His eyes do not wander among the occupants while he is at his work. Gabriel seems to have eyes only for his hands, and what they carry into his hearth. O had never seen him speak to anyone. He had no idea of his occupation; he knew only of his art. Up to this point in the night, O can see he is uninsured and untapped. What kind of man was he, he wondered. He did understand the essence of why he came to the party. Other than the free eats, there was a freedom to his place here. O looked to each of the others occupying themselves in conversations, in laughter, in argument, in frantic elaborations, in the interpersonal battleground of the evening. For Gabriel, this wasn’t something he desired. O considered his perspective, of invisibility. Was it a choice? Or a bestowment? Perhaps the battleground was a shell he could not break through, an unreachable peak. But being here was still important to him. He needed to be amongst them, even if they couldn’t see him. Even with his eyes on the ground, doing it for himself, it was crucial somehow. No one else could see it, but O could see Gabriel was dying, and in haste. O sighed, leaving him to it. There’s nothing I can do.
O saw from a distance, a reunion of an old flame. Gio approached Lilith in the hallway. He surprised her. Her back to him, he whispers into her ear. They appear more than well acquainted. Lilith’s smile is sincere. Gio’s grin is one of indignity. But O realizes that is always his smile. O moves on as they slip into a side room together.
O looks on to new sounds from the bar. Persia and Wade are yelling. A drinking contest. Persia’s well-composed suit has become disheveled. There is the madness of competition in his eyes as he looks on from behind his mug. He never loses, in his mind, there is no one his superior in most pursuits. Even Wade, the largest man here. Equally incensed within the competition, he white knuckles his mug in exasperation. The two dogs, rabid in their own delights, clapped back and forth. O marked they often wished violence upon one another. But this night, they shared in revelry and reverie. Shane and Eva look on at the spectacle, mildly entertained. O goes to the bathroom.
Later, upon returning to the scene, O sees everything has simmered down. Persia and Wade are talking.
“…and we never apologized! Hah hah ha!”
“You have never seen a profit you wouldn’t devote yourself to,” Wade boomed.
O saw broad-shouldered Wade was still wearing his jacket. It appeared as if he could leave at any moment. He liked to talk with his hands. He could not suffer silence.
“What else is there W, than the game? It’s all there is. And I intend to win. Always,” Persia responded.
O couldn’t help but fall under the presence of Persia. He found himself again looking forward to the things this one would say and do. One was unavoidably drawn to him and his word, again and again. Persia had changed into something new. Sweater and slacks. The comfort of the attire reached into his face. It was damnable and pure. He was the “Pretty Boy” once more. Where did these new clothes come from? It honestly wouldn’t surprise O to learn of Persia’s stashes of 2nd attires across all the party houses.
“But you don’t always win, do you Persia? Sometimes, the result is less than that. How can you cope!” Wade finishes with a charge. Stepping forward, he shadow boxes with Persia. There is familiarity in his ducks and dodges, he speaks while he does. He is being playful, but if any of those punches were delivered, Persia would be blasted back.. It appeared Wade either trusts Pretty Boy to execute the proper dodges, or he hopes he doesn’t..
“Big wins overshadow the small losses,” Persia retorts.
“Yes, and how many of those?”
“More than enough to pay the bills.”
“I know you though, you don’t pay for anything. You don’t expose yourself, in your action or your own frame of reference… You see, that is your problem.” Wade looked as if he had come to some kind of newfangled revelation.
“Yeah. You don’t give a damn about anyone or anything, not even yourself I don’t think,” Wade was getting animated.
O watched as Persia sighed.
“That is a stupid thing to say.”
“That’s my point, you might be. All you care about is whatever it is you are going after.”
For the first time, O notices Eva. She stands nervously to the side. O meets her eyes briefly, before she returns to her penchant for intent listening.
Persia retorted, “There is a salience of meaning in your utterance just now. But I wouldn’t expect you to decipher it.”
“You do not stand above me.”
“No, but I do stand aside. You think I don’t care about anyone? What about all the times I have helped you along? Taken your hand to carry you through some ill-conceived intention, an outburst that threatened your entire position, a suggestion to direct your energies to where they could most be useful. I know you just as well as you know me. And without me, you would’ve destroyed yourself ages ago.”
Wade was silent. His fists clenched as tightly as his jaw. O detected the truth in Persia’s words. This was getting real. These things never end well.
“Do I not speak it into existence?” Persia waited.
“It wasn’t from a source of humility,” Wade finally spat. “You don’t have a bone of it.”
“Neither do you. And for that matter, humility is useless. We both know that. What exactly is it that you have a problem with me, that you don’t carry the same within yourself. When you speak at me in this way, you decry yourself.”
“I have my own challenges and I admit them. I lose control sometimes. I don’t let things go. In truth, I see more problems than solutions, in people and in my own circumstance,” Wade admitted.
“Ah cut it, you have no solutions! Everything you see is a nail and your hammering never works! You are defective AND a slave to passions you cannot hope to articulate.”
“At least I can admit my faults,” Wade says slowly, anger rising.
Persia was pensive, for a moment. It was a look O was not oft to see on his pleasant face. This man is different.
“Do you remember the complication we had in the fall?”
O was startled by the party’s reaction. The murmurs and bustling of the others standing around all halted on a dime. Everyone looked at Persia. Even Gabriel was up from his feast. The palpable tension of their gazes filled O with something he hadn’t considered in a time. He didn’t look at Persia, he looked upon the darkness of his suddenly closed eyelids. Perhaps trying to escape an awkward moment, we couldn’t bear to witness this.
Persia persisted, continuing to stare at Wade in conscious defiance, “Where would any of us be without me.”
Wade shook his head. His eyes bulged and his body trembled with discernible rage. Lilith moved to stay his hand with her own. Eva retracted from the scene. Shane looked on, a stone. Gio mumbled to himself, smiling with anticipation, fidgeting with something unknown.
“I justify your existence!” Persia screamed into the soundless void of the room. Everyone was listening, no one had anything to say.
O opened his eyes. He thought he saw Persia looking upon him with a malicious side-eye glance. But he knew that could not be. That type of person never cared about someone like O.
O finds himself alone. Sitting in the corner where Gabriel was earlier. Wonder where he is off to? He tries to think, but finds it too exhausting. Instead O just waits. With the sounds of the party noticeably absent, he decides instead to enjoy the silence of reprieve. Looking down at his feet, he hears footsteps approaching. O looks up and sees Eva.
“I know you probably don’t want to talk to anyone right about now,” she speaks softly, without meeting his eyes.
O looks at her. She wears a lightly decorative jacket over her dress. Black boots, high tops. Her hair falls over much of her face. The only way to know her was to listen to how her voice sounded. The other aspects never offered much up. She was a thin, slight shade of mysterious elegance. She spoke with interminable patience. But O always sensed how artificial her composure was, how much she had to focus to convey her every word. O respected the effort. There was never as much exertion on his end with his interactions with her.
“I just wanted to tell you that I am sorry,” Eva continued.
O awaited her words. Remembering now, he considered how manipulative she could be with this act and it almost made him feel something.
“I am sorry, for how all of us are, to you I mean,” she looked up as she said this, brushing the hair from her left eye and meeting his gaze. “We only know the one way of being.”
O nodded, nearly imperceptible. Eva acknowledged the gesture.
“Truth be told,” she looked away, hair returning to adorn her slight face, “I envy you.”
She scurried away quicker than he could realize the allusion of her words.
O closed his eyes, finally removing his mask, and returned to something of a meditative state for as long as he could stand it.
~ art by Valerie Meijer
I awake via sound and force. When I look up, they are here looking upon me. I am the full focus, center of attention, new life of the party. Persia, Lilith, Wade, Gio, Shane, Gabriel, Eva. The party has congregated. Their gazes are damning, evidencing my own sin. I can’t move nor speak. I look to each of their faces in some measure of resistance and pleading. Their expecting faces give the habitual antiphon.
I see the unknown participant approach. The unrecognized, the unheralded obfuscative penumbra. Id smiles with anticipation, inducing the others to action.
Blink once. blink. twice. And I finally see them. Grotesque honesty unveiled, all the masks are cast. As I recoil, they reach out with their hands, placing them upon me. Their touch expels me from the party once again. ~